2009 Pontiac G8 GXPPosted on May 8th, 2009
Pontiac returns to its roots with a sports sedan that’s all attitude
By Nina Russin
The Pontiac G8 GXP parked in my driveway reminds me a lot of the ’63 Catalina sedan. The sedan wasn’t technically a muscle car: a designation reserved for the hardtop model. But its large V-8 engine had enough low-end torque to strip asphalt, and the available Hurst shifter ensured that none of the horsepower went to waste.
A kid who might want to borrow Mom and Dad’s car to do a few smoky burnouts on the weekend could get the job done with the family sedan, assuming the car was a properly equipped ’63 Catalina. It wasn’t exactly a wolf in sheep’s clothing: more like Doctor Jeckyll on the losing end of a date with Mister Hyde.
Like the Catalina, the Pontiac G8 is a muscle car in a sedan body. Unlike the most recent GTO, the G8 has styling to match its performance. That’s a good thing, since Pontiac enthusiasts don’t take well to milk toast exteriors.
GXP adds a dose of performance
The GXP is the race-inspired version of the G8: it comes standard with a more powerful V-8 engine, six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift selection, limited slip differential and sport suspension. Buyers who need the practicality of a sedan, but desire sports car performance need look no further.
Up front, the G8 GXP’s chrome grille is all business, framed by two demonic looking headlamps and Pontiac’s signature split grille. Large Brembo brakes peek out from behind nineteen-inch aluminum rims. Dual chrome exhausts protrude out the back.
Functional hood scoops are a clue to what lies underneath: a 6-litre V-8 engine rated at 402 horsepower, with enough low-end torque to rival Grandpa Catalina. A six-speed automatic transmission with sport mode and manual gear selection adds an extra dose of fun.
Car on a mission
Driving the GXP is a painful reminder of GM’s recent decision, to retire Pontiac at the end of 2010. Pontiacs at their best are visceral cars: the G8 GXP is the most visceral car Pontiac has produced in the current decade.
It looks good, feels solid, and it’s a lot of fun to drive. The forty-thousand dollar sticker price doesn’t help the car’s marketability in this soft economy; especially with a $1700 gas guzzler tax tacked on to the MSRP. On the other hand, the G8 GXP is cheaper than a Corvette, and holds two additional passengers.
The muscle cars of the 1960s proved that there’s a place in this world for four-passenger cars that can do double duty at the dragstrip. From what I can tell, people still like going to dragstrips, and there’s no reason why a GXP owner wouldn’t want to cruise down the quarter mile on a Sunday afternoon.
How fast is it?
Having read the specs, I already knew that the G8 GXP is crazy fast. Still I couldn’t resist the temptation to take the sedan out on the open road, and see how fast it felt.
Cruising up the 101 freeway on the east side of Phoenix, I pushed the speed limit as much as I dared. At top speed the tach needle rested comfortably on the left side of the gauge. To get this car into its sweet spot, I wouldn’t just lose my license; I’ll end up in jail.
The faster it went, the more solid it felt. Taking a decreasing radius turn at twice the speed limit, I felt as if I’d let myself and the car down. It wanted more. I wanted more too.
While it isn’t as practical as all-wheel drive in wet weather, there’s nothing as nice as a rear-wheel drive car on dry pavement. In addition to excellent steering response and a well-tuned suspension, the G8 has close to perfect front-to-rear weight balance.
This is where the current generation of muscle cars part ways with classics like the Catalina. The muscle cars of the 1960s were good at one thing: going very fast in a straight line, and hopefully not suffering from brake fade at the end.
The G8 likes winding roads. And its oversized Brembo brakes ensure that it can stop every bit as fast as it can accelerate.
Visibility around the car is pretty good. Though the G8 has thick rear pillars, the side mirrors do a good job of compensating for blind spots. Over-the-shoulder visibility is good to both the left and right.
Engineers gave the G8 a nice throaty exhaust note, while keeping road and wind noise to a reasonable level. If the G8 was dead quiet on the interior, it would feel like a disconnect. A little tire noise never hurt anyone.
Sporty, versatile interior
Pontiac has significantly raised the bar on its interior design over the past decade. Gone are the instrument panels stuffed with oversized knobs and buttons. The G8 has good touch-points, and all of the controls are where they logically should be. For example, the power window and mirror controls are on the center console, where both the driver and front passenger can reach them.
The steering wheel is especially nice: very solid with swells where the driver’s hands go. It’s a little on the large side, but small enough to stay out of the driver’s forward vision. Redundant audio and Bluetooth controls are easy to operate.
The sedan comfortably seats four adults: a large floor tunnel makes the center rear position impractical for anything but strapping in a child seat. The center rear seatback folds down to create a pass-through. It serves as a flat workspace with cupholders for the rear passengers.
Dual zone climate controls and heated front seats are standard on the GXP, keeping the driver and front passenger comfortable in temperature extremes. Though the car’s black leather trim isn’t the most practical material for Phoenix summers, designers were smart enough to avoid using metal on the steering wheel, shift knob, and other key controls.
The standard red-face gauges are sporty, but can be hard to read in bright sunlight. The hood above the gauge cluster is too shallow to shade the gauges in mid-day.
The standard Blaupunkt audio system delivers exceptional sound quality. All models come pre-wired for XM satellite radio, with three months of free service. GM also throws in a year of free basic service on the standard OnStar system.
An optional sunroof on the test car brings ambient light into the back. I was surprised by the amount of head, hip and legroom in the second-row seats.
The trunk is surprisingly wide and long. A standard cargo net keeps grocery bags from sliding around.
Engineers smartly located the car battery in back. Not only does this make it easier to jump the car on the shoulder of the road, it also keeps the battery cooler.
The G8 GXP comes standard with front, side and side curtain airbags, four-channel antilock brakes, traction and stability control. The standard OnStar system automatically notifies the police and medical personnel if the airbags deploy.
Pontiac builds the G8 at GM’s Elizabeth, Australia assembly plant.
Likes: A solid, fast sport sedan with exceptional ride and handling. The G8’s road manners should bring a smile to any car enthusiast’s face.
Dislike: Poor fuel economy, and a gas guzzler tax.
Model: G8 GXP
Base price: $37,610
As tested: $40,895
Horsepower: 402 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 402 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 13/20 mpg city/highway
Comments: The manufacturer recommends the use of premium fuel.
Leave a reply